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Landscape Design Process Brings Creative Visions to Life

If you haven’t worked with a landscape design company before, the design process may seem a little mysterious. Maybe that’s because every project is unique. All kinds of factors—from the size of the job to whether additional professionals or trades need to be brought in—play into what the experience will be like.

Adding a flagstone sidewalk with a specimen shade tree and some flower beds for curb appeal is one thing. Creating an elaborate outdoor space with retaining walls, new planting beds, decks, an outdoor kitchen and water features is an entirely different affair, requiring deeper resources and a different approach to communicating design ideas.

In describing how personalized the design process is, I’m reminded of a Dahlonega project we recently took from design to completion.

The client had been forced to give up on outdoor entertaining altogether as her once pleasant-enough back deck had fallen into sun-bleached disrepair, and the warped, cracked deck boards had become magnets for wasp nests. After spending a good while pondering the situation, all she knew for sure was that she wanted the deck to be completely removed and she didn’t want another one like it in its place.

What she knew she did want:  a place for entertaining and some raised flower beds.

Key to a successful landscape design process:

being able to see and understand the client’s vision for the project

At the initial site visit, I always ask a lot of questions aimed at helping clients articulate what’s in their mind’s eye, and I listen intently. My goal is to re-create their vision, so my challenge is to be able to see that vision with them. I love it when clients have pictures to show me of spaces they like, whether it’s photos, magazine pictures or Houzz ideabooks. Pictures help me understand what their expectations are, right down to their expectations of how the project should feel.

During that initial meeting, we were able to get pretty specific about what the client wanted:  a wide terrace off the back of the home that incorporated a series of multi-level, stone, raised flower beds floating on a clean, contemporary stone surface with stone steps connecting the terrace to the patio level and lawn below. She also wanted to incorporate into the landscape somewhere a space for barbecuing and a shed. Finally, she wanted us to provide the planting spaces, but she wanted to do the planting and gardening herself.

Art of Stone offers the complete design/install package, but it’s not unusual for clients who have the skills to do it to tackle parts of their landscape projects themselves, while recognizing the importance of having a professional design plan to unify the parts into a cohesive, attractive and functional space.

Bringing additional expertise in on the design process

can sometimes add depth to the project

I left the meeting excited about the project and eager to call on our friend Scott McLendon, a landscape architect we like to involve in projects with a heavy focus on hardscapes and layout. The difference in our credentials is the schooling. Landscape architects like Scott have at least bachelor degrees. They also have annual continuing education responsibilities and licensing requirements. Landscape designers may combine less formal education with in-the-field experience. I earned a two-year technical degree in environmental horticulture, I’m a Georgia Certified Landscape Professional, and I have 18 years of experience in landscape design.

We each have our strengths. I have specialized knowledge about plants and I’m very skilled at combining and arranging them to achieve healthy, sustainable growing conditions and aesthetically pleasing outdoor environments. Scott has exceptional expertise in layout of structures and hardscapes. So we make a great design team.

Preliminary architectural design with measurements
Depending on the scale and complexity of the project, we generate various plans and drawings for specific purposes. Some help communicate ideas between us and clients; others give precise instructions to installation and building crews. This plan showing the entire design puts the client’s ideas down on paper in some detail. More specific plans and drawings zeroing in on the complex sections of the project will follow

I filled Scott in on the vision the client had shared with me, and took him with me to our next meeting, where we went over the initial design plan with the client, got more input and delved into more detail about all the elements she wanted to include in the project and materials she liked.

By this time, the client had realized she wanted some additional improvements that would make the outdoor space more functional and enjoyable:  Secondary access (a new door and stone steps) to the patio level from the adjacent sunroom and a stone pathway from the patio around the side of the home to the garage. She decided to defer the barbecue space and shed for this phase of the project.

Architectural design with measurements
A site inventory and analysis is a critical component of a landscape design plan. It involves measuring and mapping all the structures, hardscapes and utilities currently in the space, as well as plotting the projects being undertaken currently and any being considered for addition in the future

Then I measured the yard. And by “the yard” I mean THE YARD, including the house, the driveway and all existing hardscape elements. I mean locating and plotting the septic tank and field lines. I mean marking off access points for the tractor and heavy farm equipment that would be crossing the property. And plotting spaces for any other functions the yard might support in the future, like walking paths, a fireplace and storage structures. Noting special views to preserve. Oh—and measuring the actual yard. This is a long and arduous task.

Using all those painstaking measurements, Scott and I pored over the general layout and figured out the best way to include everything she wanted. We presented a draft to the client for review. On a routine job, this is when the client usually signs off on the plan and installation begins. But, between calculating the variable levels of the multiple raised planting beds on the terrace and engineering how the two access points from the house and sunroom would meet up at the same level on the patio, this was a fairly complicated project, and we anticipated a little back and forth.

Initial landscape design concept
Full-colored design drawings aren’t usually necessary for small, straightforward residential landscape jobs. But for larger, or more complex projects, they’re an important way to communicate abstract ideas to make sure the designer and client have the same vision for the project. This preliminary concept drawing is a bird’s eye view of how the terrace space will flow with the planned raised beds in place.

We presented Scott’s preliminary design concept drawing to the client to make sure our design reflected what she had envisioned for her new terrace. Colored, design drawings like this aren’t always generated for small and straightforward projects. For large, detailed or complex plans, the drawings help communicate the vision for the project to ensure all parties involved are working toward the same result.

Drawings of complex sections of the project and samples of materials

help ensure the designer shares client’s vision

Architectural design elevation drawing
Vertical drawings, or elevations, provide different perspectives on a project or section of a project. They’re helpful in describing the scale and proportion from different vantage points, and helping the client imagine what it would be like to actually be in the space.

Two additional elevation drawings helped the client see the finished heights of the multi-level raised beds relative to a person standing on the terrace. They illustrated the size, scale and proportion of the beds as they might appear when filled with plants. The top one even references the relationship of the raised beds to the tall windows of the adjacent sunroom.

The client was thrilled with the layout. With some minor adjustments and the addition of a few new features and tasks to the scope of work (outdoor lighting, stubbing the beds in for future irrigation and setting the beds up with good planting soil), we were almost through the design phase.

Now it was time to select and source the materials. The client wanted a combination of natural stone, manufactured stone and colored concrete pavers. We found a manufactured stone that was a very close match to what she already had on the property (different batches won’t match exactly). She wanted pavers that were thick and heavy enough to handle the tractor and heavy equipment that would be hauled over them. We found a Canadian product that fit the bill. And for the natural stone that needed to coordinate with the manufactured stone, we found an exquisite, earthy stone imported from India to complete the surface of the terrace and the wall caps topping off the raised beds.

We shared samples of the hardscaping materials, all of which met with the client’s approval. Then we presented the project price…and waited.

(Gulp)

She gave us the go-ahead! Following all those measurements and calculations from the design phase precisely, Jason and Scott laid out the design; then Jason and Jorge got to work constructing footings and setting forms.

Raised stone garden planters and stone terrace
The finished project is distinctive and stunning, perfectly complementing the home. See all the different heights of the many raised beds? The variable levels actually do give a sense that the beds are floating on the stone terrace. As designed, the walkway continues around the side of the home to the garage, finishing the project.

This project is a great example of the landscape design process at its best. By asking the right questions and listening to the client, we helped her refine and describe her vision. We brought in additional expertise when we saw that it could add depth to what we could accomplish for her. And we presented professional drawings as needed to make sure we were all on the same page for this complex job. As a result, the client’s unique and wonderfully creative vision truly was brought to life.

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